Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Thursday 08.16.18

Mural Making: Pride of Place

From Don Masse

Which wall provides more visual impact and joy for your students?

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.51.20 AM

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 10.51.27 AM

Hopefully, you chose the second image!

Across the world, it seems that there is a much deserved rise in recognition of murals in public places, bringing art and inspiration to the masses. Murals create conversations and bring a renewed sense of purpose and pride to the communities that they are created in and with. Murals on school grounds can reinvigorate a sense of school pride and provide students opportunities to leave a lasting, positive mark on their campus.

At Zamorano, we have had an active mural program for the past 10 years. Every year, all of our 5th graders participate in an end of the year legacy mural project. Since it’s inception, this program has been something that students look forward to participating in. In recent years, we have also worked with local artists to add additional murals to our school campus as well.

If your school does not have an active mural program, I highly encourage you to get one off the ground. This post outlines a few of the steps involved to add color and community to your school campus.

1- Create interest. Gather examples of murals at other schools and/or places to share with your  administration and school staff to activate support for the project.

2- Find a suitable location on campus. It should be visible and accessible for people to work on and then view. Be careful about making it too accessible, though. At Zamorano, we did one on a wall that is around the corner from a bathroom where young students line up after recess and the mural has not aged well due to feet and bodies coming in contact with the wall on a daily basis. As part of this step, take note of the nature of the wall surface- interior/exterior, smooth/textured, concrete/wood, etc.

3- Develop a plan for the design of the mural. This could take different forms. It could be a lead artist/teacher on site developing a concept and design. It could be put together by a small team of creatives on site that seeks out staff and community input in the ideation stage. It could be a student designed concept that focuses on attributes of the school. It could be designed by a local artist who specializes in murals and this artist works with the school community in the development of the concept. Really, this process comes down to being aware of the school community’s strengths and capabilities in terms of collaboration and visual design. No matter what approach your school takes, there should be some level of collaboration, so that members of the school community feel included and respected.

4- Secure funding for paint supplies and materials. This could come from an art department budget, ptf support, donations from companies whose products you will use, writing a grant, or creating a fundraising campaign through the likes of gofundme or donorschoose.

5- Based on the size and surface of the wall, secure enough paint to make it happen. When planning our annual mural budget, I estimate $300 to cover walls approximately 9’x25’. We use stiff bristle brushes that range from 1/4” to 1” primarily for painting. Purchasing a bundle of those was about $100 years ago. Since all of our murals are outside in the SoCal sun, we have learned to use exterior semigloss latex house paint. Depending on your schools location and climate, you may use different types of paint, but we have found house paint works quite well and lasts quite a while.

6- Managing the drawing of the design on the wall. Depending on your approach to design development, the drawing may be done by an individual mural leader or with a small team. How you go about drawing, is again, dependent on school capacity. It could be drawn freehand, done with a grid method, or with the assistance of a projector. After drawing the mural out, I have found it extremely helpful to trace the lines with a sharpie marker, so that they are more visible to the painters and they hold up to unexpected weather conditions.

7- Painting the mural. Again, this may be approached in a variety of ways, depending on your individual school site. At Zamorano, I am fortunate enough to work with the 5th graders for a week at the end of the year- working with small groups for 20-30 minutes at a time. You or another school community art leader may be able to do something similar. It could be created on a school beautification day or days. It could be done in stages throughout the school year with different groups contributing at different times.

8- Celebrate! When the mural is finished, celebrate the experience somehow. You could do a community unveiling, a gallery walk with your art classes, invite school district officials to your site, and promote the experience through social media.

9- Reflect and plan to do it again!

- DM

Image above is our completed 2016 mural that used the 3 elements of our “Zamorano Way” as inspiration

September article in Arts & Activities on mural that local artist Monty Montgomery led at Zamorano last spring:

Gofundme page for the Monty Montgomery project:

Blog post documenting our 2016 mural, including a time lapse video:

Monday 08. 6.18

Contemporary Art in the Classroom

From Don Masse

“Mr. Masse, are they still alive?”

Inevitably, this was (and still is) one of the first questions I would get from students when introducing them to the work of an artist in class. The answer, when I started teaching years ago was usually “yes”. This was followed by a sigh, and the class energy level would drop- for real. So, 10 years ago I made the move to include more living artists into my elementary art curriculum. I am so glad that I did and I believe my students are too. Instead of focusing on the dead white guys from art history, my students and I are learning about artists from many different creative fields that are working and creating all around the world. In this blog post I’d like to share a few of the benefits to including more current artists into your art ed curriculum.

First of all, with careful consideration of the living artists that you bring in, there will be a spike in student engagement. Our students want/need to see themselves held up and honored as vital parts of their immediate community and the larger world. Know your student demographic, introduce them to living artists from cultures and countries that are representative of them. This will take work on our part, but all good teaching does. When you make the commitment to a curriculum of living artists representative of your students, you’ve got a hook to engage them in the power of the language of art. Then, just make sure you keep them engaged with thoughtful, well designed creative challenges for your students to experiment with.

 A recent shift in my teaching has been to introduce my students to more artists working in our community and our city. Frankly, I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner! Be aware of the artists making and creating locally and look for opportunities to include them in your curriculum. One of the beauties of this, is that your students may be familiar with the artists’ work or after being exposed to it in class, when they encounter it in your community, the visual art experience becomes even more real and concrete for them. It brings our art content alive for our students. Incorporating local artists into your curriculum can also set the stage for artist visits, artist talks, artist led projects at your school site. Over the past few years, we have had a variety of local artists come to our campus and share their processes and products with our students and these experiences have proven to lift everyone up. It’s a winning experience for both the artists and our students

To piggyback on local artist visits is the importance of reaching out to your non local living focus artists to share the creative processes that were inspired by their work in your classroom.  After a grade level creates work inspired by a living artist, I share the process on social media- my main platforms are Instagram and Facebook and I also email the artists directly. Most often, artists working today have email, a website, and/or some sort of presence on social media, so it is quite easy to share with them- you certainly can’t do this with a dead person from art history. The large majority of artists that I contact respond enthusiastically to the visual experiences students have completed that were inspired by their work. They write letters of encouragement and ask questions of the students. You can then share these interactions with your students, and believe me, it lifts them up! My students can never get over the fact the artists we study dig their work. Some artists even share the work students have created with their own social media followers. Again, an empowering experience for your students, and for the work that you, yourself, are doing within your classroom and art program. These online interactions serve as publishing opportunities for your students and promotional opportunities for your art program and school and you really can never get enough of each!

 But isn’t art history important? No doubt it is, and these experiments with the work of living artists can make movements and styles created in the past more relevant for our students. You can absolutely connect work being made now with work that made it possible from art history. In your classroom, this could be done by looking backwards from a contemporary focus, or you can approach it by introducing a focus piece from history and looking forward to the work of living artists. Either way, your students will start making connections that they otherwise wouldn’t have made and it will strengthen their understanding of how the past informs the present and how the present borrows from the past.

So, if you are not currently doing so, I highly encourage you to bring the work of living artists into your curriculum. It doesn’t have to be a wholesale reinvention of your existing curriculum. Find a balance that works for your students and yourself. Find a balance that will resonate with your students the most and maintain a high level engagement throughout the experiences they explore within your curriculum.

1- An example of what can happen when you bring the work of a local artist into your curriculum can be found here-

2- An example of an art lesson that can connect effectively with a movement and/or artist from art history-

3- My blog documents many of the living artist inspired experiences that I have done with students-


Wednesday 08. 1.18

Reflection, Play, and Growth

From Don Masse

My first blog post for the month of August stems from two recent personal experiences that have strongly resonated with me. First, was the week I spent teaching at the Tennessee Arts Academy at Belmont University. I facilitated contemporary art inspired sessions that provided participants opportunities to explore and play with various mediums in figurative and abstract styles. The structure was quite similar to the way I format my elementary lessons at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy. I believe play, experimentation, and response to design constraints is important not only for our students, but artists and art educators as well.

This week-long academy provides such a rich atmosphere for creativity- it’s full of inspiring speakers and performers, it brings together visual art, music, and theater, and it left me wanting to plant seeds for something similar out here in San Diego. Which brings me to my first point- it is imperative for us as art educators to seek out opportunities to grow. We must bring ourselves to experiences like this- whether a day or weeklong in duration, whether in person or online,  whether monthly or annually, so that we can reflect on our practice, collaborate with other educators, and process the experiences so that we bring improved learning opportunities back to our students. Since I attended my first national convention in San Diego, I feel like I have grown so much as an educator and my students have benefitted immensely.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 3.51.10 PM(From my Contemporary Focus sessions at TAA)

The other recent experience that rang my bell was participating in a local call for artists to redesign work for a public art project in San Diego. This project got me reflecting on my experiences in the community and creating work unlike I ever have before. It afforded me the opportunity to creatively challenge myself and sparked ideas for new student experiments, too.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 3.51.21 PM(Mock-up for North Park Garage Art project panel that will be completed in September)

The life of an art educator can be exhausting and leave us with little energy to pursue our own creative work and we need to work to find a balance between our teacher selves and our artist selves. I believe that giving ourselves time to create throughout the year can fill us up, it can give us more energy when we think we’ve been depleted, and can also positively inform the creative challenges we provide our students. It doesn’t have to be creating a body of work for a public art project or gallery show, it can be as low key as visual journaling,  making quick drawings from observation,  drawing in the sand at the beach, or drawing with sidewalk chalk in front of your home. Find what works for you and give yourself time to play!

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 3.51.28 PM
My future blog posts for August will share tips on establishing a mural program at your school, bringing digital art experiments into your art curriculum, and the benefits of introducing your students to the work of artists working in today’s world. Stay tuned!